St. Kentigern Mungo of Glasgow, Bishop and Abbot

13 January

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Died c. 603-612; (feast day is January 14 in Glasgow.) Most of what we know about Saint Kentigern mixes fact and fiction, because the only sources date from the 11th and 12th centuries. Many of the traditional elements predate the written documents.

Kentigern is said to have been a native of Lothian, the son of Saint Thenaw (Thaney, Thenog, Theneva), a British princess, and the grandson of, perhaps, Prince Urien. When it was learned that she was pregnant by an unknown man, she was hurled from a cliff (in a cart at times) and, when discovered alive at the foot of the cliff, set adrift in a boat (or barrel) on the Firth of Forth. She reached Culross, was sheltered by Saint Serf, and gave birth to a child to whom Serf gave the name Mungo (meaning, little darling). The legend continues that Kentigern was raised by the saint, became a hermit at Glasghu (Glasgow) and was so renowned for his holiness that he was consecrated bishop of Strathclyde about 540 by an Irish bishop. There is reason to believe that he actually began his missionary efforts at Cathures on the Clyde, thus founding the church at Glasgow, and continued his missionary activities in Cumbria generally. He was, indeed, the first bishop of Strathclyde. During his bishopric, he revived the cultus of Saint Ninian and restored his church in Glasgow. His mother gave her name to Saint Enoch's Square and Railway Station in that city.

It is further related that political disorder drove him into exile in Carlisle and then into Wales, where he is said to have stayed with Saint David at Menevia. Reputedly he also founded the monastery of Llanelwy, being succeeded as abbot there by Saint Asaph when he was recalled to the north by the Christian King Rederech around 553; but the evidence for these particulars is altogether insufficient. In the north again he lived at Hoddam (Dumfries) and Glasgow, where the saint died while taking a bath. He was buried in Glasgow cathedral.

Mungo (Munghu) is a Celtic nickname commonly used for Kentigern; it is usually explained as meaning 'darling' or 'most dear.' Montague states that Kentigern was probably Irish because "his nickname Mungo is compounded with the prefix 'Mo,' a purely Irish custom."

The ring and fish displayed on the heraldic arms of the city of Glasgow refer to a tradition about Saint Kentigern, in which he miraculously saves an unfaithful wife from the anger of her royal husband. The queen had given her husband's ring to her lover. The king discovered it, threw it into the sea and told his wife she must find it again in three days. Kentigern told her not to worry: One of his monks had extracted the ring from a salmon he caught. The Saint's kindness is commemorated on the arms of the city of Glasgow.

There are several Scottish and nine English, mainly Cumbrian, dedications to the saint under his nickname, Mungo. Although it is unlikely that Kentigern founded the 1,000-monk monastery in northern Wales, the story may be true that he traded pastoral staffs with Saint Columba near the end of Columba's life (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopaedia, Farmer, Montague).

In art Saint Kentigern is represented as an enthroned bishop with a monk at his feet presenting a salmon with a ring in its mouth; a queen with a ring and a king with a sword are near him. At times he may be portrayed meeting Saint Columba with a column of fire above him; or holding a mulberry leaf (Roeder).

Saint Kentigern is venerated at Carlisle and Saint Asaph. Together with his mother, Kentigern is the patron of Glasgow.

1) The Life of Kentigern by
Jocelyn, a monk of Furness
Twelfth century

2) Saint Kentigern, Apostle to Strathclyde
A Masters Thesis by
Cynthia Whiddon Green
December, 1998
[caveat lector]

Church of Saint Kentigern

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